TUCSON, ARIZONA – When Fraser Aird was in Vancouver preparing for World Cup qualifiers with the Canadian national team in November, the last thing he expected was to be calling the city his new home two months later.
Aird was settled in Scotland, having moved there two days after his 16th birthday to join his “boyhood heroes” Rangers in 2011. But a change of management last summer had seen the Canadian go from being a first-team regular to a squad player.
A young player who was still developing, Aird needed regular playing time, and a mutual agreement between club and player saw him head back over the Atlantic to join Vancouver Whitecaps FC on a season-long loan with a transfer option at the end of it.
“It was a few factors,” Aird, who turned 21 on Tuesday, said of his decision to come to Vancouver on a conference call. “I found myself not being involved as much as I'd like to be. When the new manager came in, the team was doing well and he was just sticking to the same lineup, as managers seem to do. So I just thought that it was in my best interest that I needed to go and get regular games in.”
It was a big decision for Aird to leave, but one that was made easier after a series of talks with Whitecaps FC head coach Carl Robinson, whose reputation for building and developing a young squad was a major selling point.
“Speaking to Robbo, and speaking to a few other people, I just felt that this would be my best option,” Aird said. “Vancouver have had the youngest squad two years in a row, so that shows that Carl put his faith in the young boys. It's all about giving boys a chance. I was lucky enough to get my chance when I was very young and keep myself involved. It's a good thing for all the young boys coming through, me being one of them.”
Vancouver were one of a number of clubs keen to acquire the services of Aird, but he cited former Whitecaps FC Designated Player Kenny Miller as a “big influence” in getting the transfer to the Canadian club to happen.
Miller is currently back in Glasgow for his third spell with the Old Firm giants and was full of praise for Robinson, the ‘Caps and the development opportunity for Aird in MLS.
“It's a great league. It's attracting a lot more experienced players from overseas,” Aird said. “The league's only going to get better and better, but the standard's really good right now in MLS. For someone like me, who's still young and looking to improve, I can only benefit from coming over here.”
Aird is a versatile player that can play the left wing, right wing and right back positions, and despite being born in Scarborough, Ontario, this will be his first experience playing in the professional ranks in North America.
And he does have a dark secret for Vancouver fans: his family have been Toronto FC season ticket holders since 2007. Aird remembers watching Robinson playing for the Reds back in the day, bravely admitting, “I used to shout at him from the stand.”
Now he's hoping that Robinson, the manager, can bring his career to the next level, especially since Aird is looking to add to his first senior cap with Canada last year.
“I think wherever I went out on loan, as long as I'm playing first team football then hopefully I'm in with a shout,” Aird said. “I've got my foot in through the door, being in the last two camps and getting my first cap against Ghana. But hopefully playing more regularly over here they get to watch me a bit more and hopefully I can cement my place in the squad moving forward.”
The 'Caps are set to face Seattle Sounders FC on Wednesday in their first preseason match of 2016. The match will be streamed live on whitecapsfc.com at 4 p.m. PT.
Click here to find out how you can cheer on the ‘Caps, in person, at the 2016 Major League Soccer Preseason in Tucson.
Be a part of the best sporting atmosphere in Vancouver! 2016 Whitecaps FC Season Tickets are on sale from $39/month all in. In addition to Season Tickets, Whitecaps FC offer a flexible range of ticket products, including Half-Season Packs, 5-Packs, a Youth Soccer Half-Season Ticket, and single match tickets. For more information, visit whitecapsfc.com/tickets.